U.S. adds to fire crews, raises their pay
WASHINGTON -- The Biden administration said Wednesday it is hiring more federal firefighters -- and immediately raising their pay -- as officials ramp up response efforts in the face of a severe drought that is setting the stage for another destructive summer of intense wildfires across the West.
President Joe Biden announced the moves during a virtual meeting with governors from Western states and as a huge swath of the Pacific Northwest endures one of the worst heat waves in recent memory. Temperatures in Portland, Ore., soared to a record 116 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday, a fact Biden cited as "a wake-up call to the rest of the public" about climate change.
Biden called federal efforts "under-resourced" compared with the deadly threat posed by climate change and extreme drought. "We can't cut corners when it comes to managing our wildfires or supporting our firefighters. Right now we have to act and act fast."
Biden's plan would ensure that no one fighting wildland fires is making less than $15 per hour and would add or convert to full-time nearly 1,000 firefighters across a host of agencies. Pay for new federal firefighters typically starts at $13 per hour. The U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department combined employ about 15,000 firefighters.
Fires in western states, parched by severe drought and record heat, have burned more than 2,300 square miles this year. That's ahead of the pace in 2020, which saw a near-record 15,000 square miles burned, killing dozens of people and destroying more than 17,000 homes and other structures.
Indiana abortion law blocked by judge
INDIANAPOLIS -- A federal judge on Wednesday blocked an Indiana law that would require doctors to tell women undergoing drug-induced abortions about a disputed treatment for potentially stopping the abortion process.
The ruling came just before the so-called abortion reversal law adopted by Indiana's Republican-dominated Legislature was to take effect today. The temporary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge James Patrick Hanlon in Indianapolis puts the law on hold while the lawsuit challenging it makes its way through court.
Hanlon, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, ruled that the abortion-rights groups had a "reasonable likelihood" of proving that the requirement would violate free speech rights of abortion providers. He also found that the state had not proven the effectiveness of the reversal process, which involves taking a different medication rather than the second of the two drugs involved in the procedure.
Six states -- Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Dakota and Utah -- have similar requirements in place, while laws in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee have been blocked by legal challenges.
Conviction gone, man must still register
NEW ORLEANS -- A Louisiana Supreme Court ruling means a man will have to continue to register as a sex offender even though his video voyeurism conviction was set aside after he served probation.
The high court, in an order dated Tuesday, refused to reconsider a May ruling in the case of Mark A. Davidson.
Court records show he pleaded guilty in 2005 in Monroe and was ordered to serve three years of probation. After probation, the court agreed to dismiss the conviction.
But the high court ruled that state law still requires Davidson to register as a sex offender.
Davidson had moved to Florida and was considering a return to Louisiana in 2016 when he filed suit to bring an end to his registration requirement in the state where he was convicted. A state district judge agreed the requirement should end. But an appeals court and the state Supreme Court, acknowledging conflicts in state law, said that a conviction set aside after probation is not the same as an acquittal.
Iowa court reverses sex education ruling
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Iowa's high court ruled Wednesday that the state may refuse to allow Planned Parenthood to conduct sex education programs funded by federal grants, reversing a judge's ruling last year that found the law unconstitutional.
The Iowa Supreme Court found the 2019 law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature is constitutional, rejecting Planned Parenthood of the Heartland's complaint that the law violated its right to equal protection and that the law served no rational legitimate government interest.
State court Judge Paul Scott ruled in May 2020 that Planned Parenthood would likely prevail at trial on its equal protection claim and he blocked the law's implementation. The state appealed.
The six justices appointed by Republican governors agreed that the Iowa Legislature could have reasonable concerns that allowing an abortion provider to teach sex education could undermine its goals of promoting abstinence and reducing teenage pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood had received the funding since 2005.